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Apr 2017

The role of collaborative learning in a social landscape

Blog posts

Liz Smith

Liz Smith

Lead Solutions Designer at Kineo

At Kineo we’ve been considering how collaborative learning can be incorporated into our social strategy. But before we can do that we first need to define collaborative learning. Is it just a synonym for social learning or does it have its own unique identity? Does the nature of time play a role? For example, is social learning synchronous and collaborative learning asynchronous? So many questions! Let’s explore them now.

Adding a little theory to the mix 

In our social learning report, Kineo's head of consulting Jez Anderson talks about Bandura’s Social Learning Theory which proposes that we learn by observing and modelling the behaviours, attitudes, and emotional reactions of others. From this we extrapolate that learning is a collaborative process, providing an active experience of knowledge acquisition. Personal agency plays an important role in this. As L&D professionals we need to be creating environments that empower our learners and building social structures that give them what they need.

From the recent survey we conducted, learners used words such as informal, sharing, networked, community, spontaneous to describe social learning. One of the ways I see collaborative learning being different to social learning is the planning that needs to go into it in advance, meaning it is not a spontaneous activity. Rather than sharing an idea you’ve had with a colleague (either in person or virtually) a collaborative experience involves working closely with your colleague to achieve a common goal, based on a pre-defined set of objectives. It could be said that this also means it’s a more formal or prescriptive type of social learning.

We’ve identified two types of collaborative learning and found some examples of each.

1. Synchronous learning

This takes place when the group is together at one moment in time. One application of this would be a group of learners in a face to face context all using their own smartphones as buzzers in a game which is set up by the facilitator. But consider how the use of collaborative learning in this setting may mean that a facilitator is not even required. With clear instructions, learners can work together productively and accomplish something together.
This can either happen within one environment or spread out amongst a group in differing locations around the world. Providing they have the appropriate technology to connect to each other, such as a webinar setting like Adobe Connect, they can all participate using online functions to share their views.

2. Asynchronous learning

This happens at different times, so it’s slightly more complicated to facilitate! Our ideas around this area focused on being able to join in a group interaction, after the event. So, for example, the original, synchronous webinar could be recorded and then re-purposed for learners taking part after the event. They could be asked to speculate on how the people in the room had voted on a poll and the learner taking the course later would be able to add their own views for the next person to see, and so on.

So how we can use the available technology out there to achieve our aims of creating collaborative learning experiences as part of a social strategy? Apps like beekast allow us to create simple interactions to bring group activities to life and ensure people truly engage in collaborative behaviours. There are plenty of tools freely available on the market that serves a similar purpose and can provide a platform for your social activities to launch from.

It’s clear from Jez’s observations in the report that successful social learning stems from the development of behaviours that encourage collaboration and sharing (rather than the tech that hosts it). As L&D professionals we’re not trying to push any one technology over another, but keeping our eyes open for any tools that can help us achieve our goal of sustaining an active community.

In terms of the big questions around the difference between collaboration and social learning, we’ve offered up some suggestions. But ultimately, does it really matter? If our communities are thriving, learners are acquiring knowledge and people are satisfied with their experience, surely that’s all that matters and the rest are just semantics?

Liz Smith

Liz Smith

Lead Solutions Designer at Kineo

Liz is a Lead Solutions Designer, working with our solutions consultants to create innovative designs for our proposal offerings. She has worked at Kineo for over six years and has a background in creative writing.